The Freedom Valley Chronicles: Times Have Changed Married Public School Teachers

As time goes on, attitudes on a variety of issues have changed in the Freedom Valley.

Today, we note one such issue – Public School Teachers and Marriage.

The idea of banning public school teachers – all of whom were women – if they were married may seem ridiculous today.

But in 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression, the Plymouth Township Elementary School District implemented such a policy.

In a news article dated September 12, 1931, in the Allentown Morning Call, it was noted that “Married school teachers will no longer be employed by the Plymouth Township board of education.”

The news article detailed that “any teacher now unmarried must resign within thirty days after she decides to wed.”

Of the 27 teachers educating students in Plymouth Township at that time, the news article noted that eight were married.  Those eight were “grandfathered” on this policy and could keep their jobs, according to the news article.

Today, such practices would be considered, well, would likely never even be considered.

But it wasn’t just Plymouth Township that found such practices acceptable at the time.

The City of New York, for example, banned married public school teachers years before the ban was implemented in Plymouth Township.

“If married women teachers have husbands able to take care of them and are admitted to the schools, they are simply standing in the way of the next single and self-dependent woman’s appointment,” was the quote attributed to Mr. Arthur Somers, President of the Board of Education in the City of New York, in a news article dated August 20, 1918, in the New York Tribune.

Mr. Somers did make exceptions for a married woman in selective situations where her “husband does not support her”, according to that news article.  This included, according to the news article, husbands who were physically or mentally incapacited as well as in situations where the husbands were serving in the military.

“Married teachers a menance to education” was a quote attributed to Mr. John Hall, member of the Board of Education in Detroit, in a news article dated September 6, 1921, in The Anniston Star.  “They are keeping hundreds of younger educated women out of the teaching profession.”

The reasoning of Mr. Hall, according to the news article, was based on the view that women that had able-bodied husbands could be supported by those husbands rather than have jobs in public schools.

A headline in a news article dated July 19, 1924, in the Daily News in the City of New York, highlighted that “Bayonne Turns Down Married Teachers”.  According to this news article, “the dozen women now boasting lesser halves will be dropped after September 1, when the new ruling takes effect.”

The reasoning in this northern New Jersey city was based on the view that, according to the news article, “unmarried applicants are so numerous [the Board of Education] decided to give  the younger women a chance.”

The front page of The Minneapolis Morning Tribune on February 9, 1926, included a quote from a member of the Board of Education in Minneapolis:  “There are many reasons why we should not put married women in the classrooms.”  The quote was attributed to Mr. J. F. Gould.

“We have some teachers who are doing the work merely to earn some extra ‘pin money’”, the quote from Mr. Gould continued.  “They ride to school in limousines, and other, equally qualified teachers can’t find places.”

The Depression Years impacted employment opportunities for many people.

On March 25, 1932, the Daily News in the City of New York included a news article stating that “Married women teachers will be banned in South Huntington, Suffolk [County], schools under a resolution adopted by the Board of Education, District 13.”

A similar policy went into effect in Lower Bucks County.

“We feel that if a woman teacher gets married, she has someone to keep her” was the quote attributed to Mr. Joseph Davenport, President of the Langhorne-Middletown Board of School Directors, on the front page of The Bristol Courier in its edition dated August 31, 1934.

That news article then noted that “the local board [of education] will have accomplished its purpose, and will have aided in employment of single women, who for the past several years have been jobless.”

In the midst of World War II, the Board of Education in Burlington, Vermont, decided to alter its policy of banning married school teachers – for one year only.  This new policy was reported in a news article dated March 12, 1943, in the Burlington Free Press.

“With the source of supply of experienced teachers threatened, the board voted to strike from the present contracts the clause banning married teachers,” according to that news article.  “The action was taken only for the ensuing school year.”

The Des Moines Register reported in a news article dated March 24, 1948, that the Board of Education of the Muscatine Independent School District “put into effect a 12-year-old law banning married women teachers from staff.”

Laws and court decisions eventually outlawed such policies.

In 1937, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a law that effectively made illegal any policies banning married public school teachers.

The passage of that law, though, did not stop some school districts from not hiring married school teachers or stop some boards of education from firing school teachers for other reasons to camouflage their intentions.

Some school districts were quite open about their policies.

A news article dated February 27, 1940, in the Shamokin News-Dispatch, included a headline “Bethleham Ban On Married Teachers”.  The news article detailed the decision of the Board of Education that “any woman teacher or employee of the school district who marries during her term of service must resign immediately or be dismissed.”  There was an exception for married women already employed by the school district if “they have the responsibility of financially maintaining a home.”

Today, the Colonial School District – the successor school district to the Plymouth Township Elementary School District and three other school districts – has a formal policy stating that it “is an equal opportunity education institution and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, age, genetic information, disability or veteran status in its admissions procedures, educational programs, services, activities or employment practices as required by Title VI, Title IX, Section 504 and/or any other applicable federal statute.”

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© 2019 Richard McDonough